Scientists step closer to designer babies, synthetic genomes
• Britain’s first three-parent baby could be born within one year
• Human cells could be made from scratch in ten years
Scientists have made giant strides in the quest to have a ‘perfect’/designer baby, create organs for transplant and developing immunity to viruses such as Ebola and Zika.
A designer baby is a baby that is the result of genetic screening or genetic modification. Embryos may be screened prior to implantation, or possibly gene therapy techniques could be used to create desired traits in a child.
Scientists, last week, a study published in Science, announced a landmark plan to recreate entire human cells from scratch within the next ten years.
The enormously complex project involves synthesising all six billion ‘letters’ of the entire human Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA) code, otherwise known as the genome.
If the project goes ahead, it could have far reaching implications for the study of diseases such as cancer and even growing replacement organs, say researchers.
But the work could also heighten existing public concerns over a fast-track to ‘designer babies’.
Researchers are suggesting the launch of a project to produce man-made human genomes in the lab.
The group of 25 scientists has highlighted the need for technology and ethical frameworks, but say the approach could lead to: growing organs for transplant patients; engineering immunity to lethal viruses, such as Ebola or Zika; making synthetic genes to study their role in cells; synthesising whole chromosomes, such as chromosome 21 – an extra copy of which is responsible for Down’s syndrome; and developing cancer-resistant cells in the laboratory.
Scientists are hoping that the completed DNA, once its made, will be implanted into a living cell and – it is hoped – start to divide.
At this point scientists will have created, for the first time, a whole human cell of their own design.
Named the Human Genome Project-write (HGP-write) it could enable researchers to make synthetic human genes and chromosomes for study.
This could include chromosome 21 – an extra copy of which is responsible for Down’s syndrome.
But implications could extend far beyond, to growing organs for transplant patients, engineering immunity to lethal viruses, such as Ebola or Zika, and even developing cancer-resistant cells in the lab.
Also, Britain’s first baby with three parents could be born next year after scientists declared the controversial In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) technique safe for use in women.
According to a report published in DailyMailUK Online, the fertility technique, which is being pioneered Newcastle University, aims to allow couples whose children have been blighted by horrific genetic diseases the chance of having a healthy baby by using a second woman’s egg.
Such a child would effectively have three parents – the couple, plus the woman that donated the egg.
Now, following more than a decade of experiments on eggs and embryos in the lab, the scientists say they are ready to treat the first women.
However, concerns remain about the safety – and the researchers admit that they can’t guarantee that every baby will be healthy.
The controversy surrounds work aimed at eliminating incurable diseases caused by faulty mitochondria – the tiny sausage-shaped powerhouses inside cells that turn food into energy.
These defects cause serious illness in one in 6,500 babies and are responsible for 50 genetic diseases, many of which kill in infancy.